Soil is the key to Carbon


Press Release
Soil Carbon – the missing link in COP 15

Thursday 26 November 2009

New research from the Soil Association reveals that if all UK farmland was converted to organic farming, at least 3.2 million tonnes of carbon would be taken up by the soil each year – the equivalent of taking nearly 1 million cars off the road.

Patrick Holden, Soil Association Director, said:
“Unless we are successful in tackling climate change, we won’t be able to feed the world’s growing population, however we farm. This report shows that agriculture can reduce greenhouse gas emissions while producing food sustainably.

“Our findings add fresh evidence to the strong case for agri-environmental farming made in the IAASTD Report, produced by 400 international scientists and endorsed by the UK Government.”

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), 89% of agriculture’s global greenhouse gas (GHG) mitigation potential is from carbon sequestration – a fact that Governments seem to be ignoring in the critical run-up to climate change talks in Copenhagen (COP 15) in December.

The research’s key findings are:

  • On average organic farming produces 28% higher levels of soil carbon compared to non-organic farming in Northern Europe, and 20% higher for all countries studied (in Europe, North America and Australasia).
  • In the UK, grasslands and mixed farming systems also have a vital role to play, and soil carbon may go a long way to offsetting the methane emissions from grass-fed cattle and sheep.
  • The widespread adoption of organic farming practices in the UK would offset 23% of UK agricultural emissions through soil carbon sequestration alone, more than doubling the UK Government’s pathetically low target of a 6-11% reduction by 2020.
  • A worldwide switch to organic farming could offset 11% of all global greenhouse gas emissions. Raising soil carbon levels would also make farming worldwide more resilient to extremes of climate like droughts and floods, leading to greater food security.

Peter Melchett, Soil Association policy director said:
“This research underlines the immediate and profound effect that organic farming techniques could have in reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the UK and globally.

“Climate change means that business as usual in our food and farming systems is no longer an option. To minimize tropical deforestation and maximize soil carbon sequestration we need to move to healthier diets based on unprocessed, seasonal produce and grass-fed meat in moderation rather than intensive poultry and pork.

“With dietary shifts we could feed the world sustainably, address the health and diet-related ill-health time bomb, and help meet our GHG targets. This should provide a no-brainer basis for inclusion in the COP15 treaty.”


For press enquiries please contact or call
Clio Turton, press office coordinator: 0117 914 2448
Jack Hunter, press and e-comms officer: 0117 314 5170

Notes to editors:

[1] Read the full report and summary of findings here:

[2] Soil carbon facts & figures:

  • Soil is a major store of carbon, containing three times as much carbon as the atmosphere and five times as much as forests. About 60% of this is in the form of organic matter in the soil.
  • The large size of this store means that soil carbon changes can have significant effects on the level of atmospheric CO2. Each 1% increase in average soil organic carbon levels could in principle reduce atmospheric CO2 by up to 2%.
  • Soil carbon losses account for a tenth of all the CO2 emissions by human activity since 1850. However, unlike the losses of carbon from the burning of fossils fuels, the soil carbon store can be recreated.
  • The principal component of the soil carbon store is humus, a stable form of organic carbon with an average life-time of hundreds to thousands of years.



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